Managing a crowd of 2,000 people and more than 700 cars is no mean feat. But for Mitch Perera, who served as communications controller and project leader at the recent 40th edition of Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive — ‘Tilal Swaihan Experience’, the key to making it successful was teamwork and good preparation.
Perera, a Sri Lankan expat who has been associated with the Fun Drive over the past 36 years, said: “Managing the huge crowd was a ginormous effort by the entire team led by Mrs. Naheed Patel (Gulf News Promotions Manager). It was a huge task but one, I could say, was done well.”
Participants enjoyed a weekend of off-roading thrills navigating the undulating sand dunes of Al Ain’s Tilal Swaihan region, coupled with entertainment, amenities and sumptuous dining at the camp site.
Perera was there, serving as marshal, when the first Gulf News Fun Drive was held on March 28, 1986, with only 75 vehicles taking part. Since then, there have been seven Day Drives, 28 Overnighters, one Abu Dhabi Day Drive and three Friday Fun Drives, thus making the recent one held on March 5 and 6, the 40th edition.
“Gulf News Fun Drive has undoubtedly become the premier outdoor event for families and friends in the UAE,” noted Perera.
Talking about this year’s edition, Perera shared: “Preparations for communications team was all done by John Spiller, the route director. So, my job was relatively easy. The team was well rehearsed and experienced to handle every situation. My role was to lead the team. They made made my life very easy. We had a few incidents and accidents but everything was handled and executed in a timely manner.”
“The team consisted of six people, including myself. We attended to all the calls made by punters and marshals. Our job was to assist all participants when they were stuck or in some kind of trouble. We then dispatched the closest marshals in the area,” he added.
Perera continued: “Since all measures and contingencies were covered, there was really no need to adjust on the day of the Fun Drive.”
“My team overlooked the entire Fun Drive to keep a tab on every participant. All participants and marshals contacted the team as and when required through an app. The app tracked the participants and we were always aware when a participant was stuck. The tracker app monitored all the cars through all sections and check points. We assisted everyone with their needs and dispatched necessary help via the marshals on route. The team also monitored all checkpoints till everyone returned to the camp site.”
Stay safe and have fun
When asked what was the most enjoyable and satisfying part of his task, Perera readily answered: “It was the ability to help people so that they can complete their fun drive. After a full day of desert adventure, seeing happy faces at the camp site after the drive was truly satisfying.”
He continued: “This year was my 36th Fun Drive and I will continue to be part of it as long as I can attend and participate — either with the main team or later as a punter. Gulf News is a one-of-a-kind event that I don’t want to miss.”
MEET THE MARSHALS
Younis Al Hammadi, 43, Emirati
I have been serving as marshal at Gulf News Fun Drive for 14 years. The best part of my job is when you help people and make take care of them in the desert. Nowadays, technology has improved a lot in tracking people lost in the desert. There is an app, which we used during the last Fun Drive. My advice to those who want to venture in the desert is to stay safe and have fun.
Sam Fernando, 49, Sri Lankan
I’ve been marshalling for the past six years. I’ve met lots of friends and made new ones. This year, I was able to assist some participants and proud fulfilling my task. One memorable incident was when a participant’s tyre popped out; but no one got hurt and the car was not damaged. We quickly helped the participant and he enjoyed the rest of the Fun Drive.
Jamil Jamal, 55, UAE national
This year, we had a beautiful route — suited to both seasoned off-roaders and beginners. We saw a lot of action and helped people who mostly had flat tyres and were stuck in the desert. There were no injuries. We also had fun and I really liked my job helping people enjoy the desert. I’ve been doing this since the 1990s.
Muhammad Iqbal, 59, Pakistani
I’ve been a desert marshal for nine years. This year’s edition of Fun Drive was really excellent. I can say all participants really enjoyed it. We assisted everyone with their needs and they were all grateful. We had a good team work and that made our task easy.